[This is an expanded version of a query I posted to Linguist List a few days ago.]
I’m interested in what appears to be a sporadic but widespread pattern of liquid dissimilation in English. I’ll post here the data I’ve collected so far, in hopes that readers might think of more examples or just want to share their wisdom on the subject.
Many English words can be heard at least occasionally with what appears to be a dissimilatory deletion of /r/. Some examples that have been reported include the following (many of these come from a website by an amateur linguist. Others are my own observation or have been contributed by other linguists.)
advesary, apeture, barbituate, beserk, bombadier, camaderie, celebatory, coner, cooborate, deteriate, entepreneur, extordinary, fustrated, govenor, hiarchy, impopriety, infastructure, interpet, itinery, Labador, libary, litature, onery, paraphenalia, paticular, peripheal, pespiration, perogative, proprietess, prostate, purient, quater, repetoire, respitory, secetary, spectogram, suprise, tempature, terrestial, terrist, themometer, Tristam Shandy, tumeric, venacular, vetinarian
There are a few cases where /r/ turns into something else: Feb[j]uary, defib[j]ulator for defibrillator, and I’ve heard reports of f[l]ustrated.
I’ve also noticed one example of dissimilatory /l/ deletion. I always thought Pachelbel’s Canon was by Pachebel. A google search shows I’m not the only one. I even get a morphological /r/-zero alternation with govern / government / governor. The /r/ is present for me in the first two, but optional in the last.
The phenomenon is mentioned by H.L. Mencken in The American Language (in the section Consonants). He cites an earlier work which I haven’t gotten ahold of yet: Hempl, George (1893) “Loss of r in English through dissimilation”. Dialect Notes, Vol. 1, pt. 6, pp. 279-81.
I’m leaning towards thinking that many of these are best explained by an Ohala-style analysis of dissimilation through misperception. As Mark Jones pointed out to me, a lot of the examples involve schwa-/r/ or /r/-schwa sequences, which in rapid speech would be pronounced as a rhoticized schwa. Listeners may assume the rhoticity comes from another source, namely the other /r/ in the word, and reanalyze the rhoticized schwa as a plain schwa.